It has long been clear that black Americans have experienced high rates of coronavirus infection, hospitalization and death throughout the pandemic.
But these factors are now causing experts to sound the alarm about what could happen next: a long-lasting prevalence of Covid in the black community and a lack of access to treatment.
Long Covid – with chronic symptoms like fatigue, cognitive issues and others that linger for months after an acute coronavirus infection subsides – has researchers baffled, and many are working hard to find a treatment for the people who suffer from it. But health experts warn crucial data is missing: Black Americans have not been sufficiently included in long-term Covid trials, treatment programs and registries, according to the authors of a new report published on Tuesday. .
“We expect there will be greater barriers to accessing available resources and services during long Covid,” said one of the authors, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who serves as director of the office of the Health Equity from Yale University and former chair of President Biden’s Task Force on Health Equity.
“The pandemic is not over, it’s not over for anyone,” Dr Nunez-Smith said. “But the reality is it’s definitely not over in black America.”
The report, titled State of Black America and Covid-19, describes how disinvestment in health care in black communities has contributed to black people contracting Covid at higher rates than white people. Black people were then more likely to face serious illness or death as a result.
The Black Coalition Against Covid, Yale School of Medicine and Morehouse School of Medicine are the authors of the report, which also offers recommendations for policy makers.
During the first three months of the pandemic, the average weekly case rate per 100,000 black Americans was 36.2, compared to 12.5 for white Americans, the authors write. The hospitalization rate for blacks was 12.6 per 100,000 people, compared to 4 per 100,000 for whites, and the death rate was also higher: 3.6 per 100,000 compared to 1.8 per 100,000.
“The severity of Covid-19 among black Americans was the predictable result of structural and societal realities, not differences in genetic predisposition,” the report said.
Black Americans were overrepresented in essential worker positions, increasing the risk of exposure to the virus, the authors write. And they were also more likely than white Americans to live in multigenerational homes or crowded spaces, to be incarcerated, or to live in densely populated areas.
Many black Americans who contracted the coronavirus became seriously ill due to pre-existing conditions such as obesity, hypertension and chronic kidney disease, which were themselves often the result of “differentiated access to care high-quality and health-promoting resources,” the report said.
The authorization of the first coronavirus vaccines was seen by many experts as a light at the end of the tunnel, but new disparities have emerged, driven by both vaccine hesitancy and limited access to vaccines.
Although the gap in vaccinations has since narrowed — 80% of black Americans were fully vaccinated in January, compared to 83% of white Americans, according to the report — the disparities persist.
“We understand that there is still unfinished work to be done to save and protect our communities from the Covid-19 pandemic,” wrote Dr. Reed Tuckson, who in April 2020 co-founded the Black Coalition Against Covid.
And when it comes to unfinished business, Long Covid is a priority.
“A lot of the very fact of getting a long Covid diagnosis has to do with having tested positive early on,” Dr Nunez-Smith said, adding that at the start of the pandemic, many Black Americans “were unable to get tested and in some cases were denied testing.
She stressed the importance of investing adequate resources in the long study of Covid. “Like everything else, without intentionality, we’re not going to achieve equity there,” she said.
March 29, 2022
An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the average rate of weekly Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths among black Americans during the first three months of the pandemic. These were rates per 100,000 people, not percentages. An earlier version also included outdated figures provided by the Black Coalition Against Covid which the organization revised after publication.